A Journey through the central coast of Vietnam looking at how depleting fish stocks are impacting on traditional ways of life.
Fishing for Muc (Squid) in the early morning, the fishermen of Central Vietnam have been taking their traditional wooden craft out for generations, supplementing their families income with daily fishing expeditions. Every morning before daybreak the fishing boats and the market traders meet on the banks of the Thu Bon River near Hoi An, to trade the days catch and make a little extra income. The residents of Hoi An and the surrounding villages could once rely on the ocean catch for food, seafood always provided extra protein and income, to supplement the unpredictable rice harvest.
Today few fishermen still use the traditional methods of small fishing craft or casting nets from the shore and modern fishing fleets and methods cost the marine environment dearly. Since the great famine of the 1980’s, the Vietnamese Government’s Doi Moi reforms introduced a modern fishing fleet that today numbers over 100,000 vessels and employs 3.5 million people. Over 48% of these vessels use trawl nets to catch fish, destroying the ocean floor and the ecosystem they fish in.
Many fishermen are now discovering that over the past 2 decades the rich bio diversity of fish is considerably less. These unsustainable practises have led to the exhaustion of many key species and fishermen are now relying on fewer lucrative species and concentrating on the more mature fish stocks, once they are all fished it will be harder to regenerate healthy and sustainable fish stocks.
With the decline of healthy fish populations, a whole generation now struggle to find work and remain in their villages, relying on only rice or other harvests for their livelihood. Some will move to Vietnam’s large and overcrowded cities to look for other ways to support their families and a few will find employment in the thriving aqua farming industry that has developed over the past 10 years. Most of these aqua farms concentrate on the export market of shrimp and fish species such as Tilapia, species that are not traditional to the Vietnamese table and profits often going to foreign owners of the aqua farms.
The sky Is a suspended blue ocean. The stars are the fish That swim.
Hafiz Shiraz — 14th century Sufi Poet
Today few young people will be taught the old ways of the sea.
A simple, traditional and sustainable way of life is no longer viable and may soon be gone forever.
Many of the villages scattered along Vietnams 3000 km coastline were heavily invested in fishing and now fishing fleets sit idol.
Traditional fishing boats fishing for squid, Thu Bon River, central Vietnam.
The Aqua Farming industry employs minimal numbers compared to traditional fishing and the incomes are also small in comparison.
Ladakh Water Crisis
Ladakh is a high altitude landscape in the far north western corner of India and is often referred to as 'little Tibet'. Its remoteness has sheltered it from the outside world for centuries and it offers a rare glimpse into a culture and way of life that are quickly disappearing in neighbouring Tibet.
Ladakh is a sparsely populated high altitude desert region, criss crossed with razor sharp mountain ranges and where irrigation allows, lush, fertile valley floors. The influences of Tibetan Buddhism are everywhere in Ladakh, vast and ancient monastic complexes have for centuries cast their political influence over this corner of the world. The coloured prayer flags wave to the wind and white washed stupas punctuate the otherwise dry earth landscape, reminding pilgrims that the inward gaze of Buddhism is never far away.
Ladakh's population is undertaking a great transformation over the present generation, the pressures of modernisation and climate change are forcing change on a social structure that had remained intact for centuries. Ladakh was opened up to western travellers as late as the 1970's and this has had profound changes to the lifestyle of Ladakh's population, causing ripples in a society that before this enjoyed a sheltered and unbroken culture, existing in a symbiotic balance with the land for centuries. Before the great opening to the West, this Himalayan kingdom enjoyed a kind of Shangri La existence, where there was "neither waste nor pollution" (H. Norbert-Hodge 1991). The quick adoption of western methods of monoculture agriculture and an embrace of western diets and lifestyles, have quickly transformed the old ways forever.
Adding to this cultural shift are real challenges from climate change and the shrinking glaciers that Ladakh's farmers rely on every spring for their irrigation water. Glacial melt has become dramatically less over the past 2 decades and this mountain locked kingdom has no means to transport in enough water to sustain its current population. Many environmental commentators suggest that Ladakh may well run out of water within a decade.
Today Ladakh stands at crossroads, a land where the state often relies on the predictions of mystic Tibetan oracles to help it make political decisions, while local punk bands sing lyrics about a future void of opportunity. It is a place where lamas hide away in mountain retreats for years on end and backpackers hold full moon parties on crystal clear lake shores. A land of historical richness and clarity and a legacy of an uncertain future.
'Even a man with a hundred horses may need to ask another for a whip.'
Many women in developing countries are faced with the challenge of earning a living employed in the informal sector, often as self employed traders on the streets. Such challenges are met in cities like Hanoi, where women are often both the main income earners of the family and the care givers for the young.
Many of them are agricultural labourers that live on the outskirts of the city and to make a living they must return to cities such as Hanoi for a few days at a time, in order to supplement the families income. Selling food and services on the streets, they tackle the economic challenges of low income and few resources. These women own very few possessions and consume fewer resources, as a result they throw away very little and collect a great deal of plastic and other materials off the streets and recycle them back into the economic system. They give this waste that would otherwise end up in landfill another life and extend its value in the economy. The resources that they divert away from garbage heaps and landfill are known as sinks, where the social and ecological costs of sending such waste to landfills is held in the active economy instead. Our Western recycling practices in countries such as Australia can learn a great deal from these recycling warriors of Hanoi's streets, where recycling an item can extend its life indefinitely and not just once in a recycling bin. According to the World Bank, waste picking can instigate grassroots investment by poor people, create jobs, reduce poverty, save communities money, conserve natural resources, and protect the environment, ultimately leading to more efficient recycling and more effective poverty reduction.
For these women recycling is not just a lifestyle choice, it is an economic necessity where everything has an economic value and too precious to waste.
In April 2015 Nepal was struck by a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake, killing over 9000 people and devastating much of Nepal's infrastructure. Nepal was already one of Asia's poorest nations and its HDI (human development index) currently stands at 144, behind countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia.
Much of the country is mountainous, in the shadow of the Himalaya range and there are few resources other than sustenance farming, that communities can rely on. Added to this is a country whose government has been gripped by instability for much of this century, a Maoist insurgency held many regions to ransom with armed strikes while an imploding and corrupt monarchy attempted to lead the country, this meant that for the last 2 decades there was little in the way of structured sustainable development.
Yet even with all this adversity, since the earthquake Nepal's population has embraced the challenges of rebuilding, particularly as many of Nepal's beloved ancient monuments and historical treasures were devastated . Ancient capitols such as Patan's Durbar square and Bhaktapur were devastated, as was the Boudhanath Stupa on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Boudhanath is one of the largest spherical mandala based stupas in Nepal and one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the Himalaya world. It is a place where the Buddhist faithful come to begin or end a major pilgrimage, or where devout inhabitants of Kathmandu will begin their day with reflection and prayer. The custom at Boudhanath is to circumambulate (to walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction), while chanting prayers of Om Mani Padme Hum, and the more times this is done, the more merit the pilgrim will receive. It is difficult for westerners to understand this concept of circles and cycles, our perspective of time in space is limited by linear concepts. Any Buddhist walking around Boudhanath will happily explain to you that everything in life comes back, everything is a cycle.
The undertaking to rebuild the stupa at Boudhanath has been embraced by the local population and many monasteries in the area have become directly involved in the rebuilding. Natural bamboo and recycling of the materials left in the devastation are integral in rebuilding this sacred site, so too is the manual labour that will go into much of the work. I visited Boudhanath 18 months after the earthquake and it was still a building site, piles of bricks and neat structured scaffolding embraced many parts of the building. It struck me that even the rebuilding process had become a path for the inhabitants, a journey of change and an opportunity for merit in this life. Change and sudden devastation are part of our world and by embracing this change, we can find a way to make peace with ourselves. To participate in the motion of Boudhanath is to understand that the best we can do is not to dominate our world, but to walk in motion with it.
'When we drop below our stories, we are led back to the mystery of here and now.' Jack Kornfield
Polyethylene Terephthalate and other Sea Creatures
When I was a child my favourite time of year was summer, it meant visits to the beach and endless afternoons walking along the shoreline hopping from rock pool to sand bar, looking for treasures washed up on the sand. It seemed the ocean was an endless giver of strange and exotic treasures, even more incredible and wild than my imagination could ever create.
I still love to scan the shoreline and imagine the treasures that the other world on our planet contains. Unfortunately now a large percentage of what the ocean gives us is plastic and other discarded human made materials that travel the oceans, breaking up and decomposing as they go, until they are unrecognisable from the natural world. Pieces of electrical wire become seahorses, dazzling coloured micro plastic fragments become shrimp for larger fish to eat and softened and smoothed plastic items, start to resemble beautiful seashells.
Today the balance of organic life and human made garbage in the oceans is crossing over and a recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum have predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the worlds oceans.
The oceans of the planet used to be the vast and unknown corners of the planet, where the turbulent and destructive human practices had not yet made any significant mark. Yet walk along any beach, no matter how secluded and the clues that we are living in the anthropocene era are all too visible. The ocean does not keep its secrets for long.
I came across this collection of human remnants over a period of a year, on Melbourne’s suburban beaches.
Our modern dependence and fascination with plastics comes at a high price, as it decomposes, its building blocks will become part of the soup of the natural world, poising the oceans, rivers and soil everywhere.
The Mekong Delta covers just 10 per cent of Vietnam's land area but produces a third of Vietnam’s food and over 60% of its seafood. It has long been regarded as the 'rice bowl' of Vietnam, however as the effects of climate change start to take affect, it is estimated that this vast area of river systems and fertile farming communities could be completely gone in the next century.
Living in the vast river systems of the Delta, communities are presently faced with many converging environmental issues. Rising sea levels are changing river courses and engulfing homes and farmland. Erosion of river banks due to groundwater extraction is also altering the physical land available for farming, land that families have relied upon for generations. Salinity is increasing in the freshwater Delta River network where sea water is penetrating as much as 90 km inland in some places and this is devastating farms that would otherwise grow rice, fruit trees and coconut palms.
Industry is also impacting on the Delta as erosion is exacerbated by the top soil and sand that is extracted from the Delta's banks to fuel Vietnam's insatiable hunger for concrete in the countries current building boom. The extraction of vast areas of sand cause instability in the banks of the rivers and often cause the river to erode faster in adjacent areas, thus adding more and more sediment into the rivers, this also affecting fishing stocks and many communities ability to grow rice.
Recently in the rush for development, many hundreds of thousands of hectares of land that was previously earmarked as eco-agricultural, allowing small communal style agricultural practices, has been rezoned into non-sustainable tracts. Here large scale industrial farming and damaging industries are able to extract the Delta's natural resources on an industrial scale, with little regard to the communities and resources these industries affect. Now many Chinese and Taiwanese companies are also granted access to the Mekong, caring little for sustainable practices. These foreign owned industrial zones also produce air pollution and chemical waste into the river on a scale that is unprecedented in the small hamlets of the Delta.
Heavy industry and agriculture has brought the development of roads and improved infrastructure, with this comes more people and more pollution into an otherwise sustainable Delta system that has given abundantly to its inhabitants for centuries.
The Maldives is an ocean paradise of over 1,200 Islands strewn across 800 kilometres, in a remote corner of the Indian Ocean. Its dazzling beauty means that it has become a destination for sea loving holiday makers. Yet the control of tourism and the institutionalised government monopoly allowing only high end resorts, have meant that the Islands have maintained an exclusivity in the foreign visitors allowed in.
One of Maldives big draw cards is the abundance of a complex web of stunning coral reefs that surround these Islands, reefs that are rivalled in complexity and beauty only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The warm tropical waters should be abundant with colour and life, lately however changing water temperatures have been devastating the coral life as the sea temperatures rise.
Global warming and the El Nino events over the past two decades have meant that this coral paradise has been devastated, many of the coral structures are losing their colour and turning white, they are dying and becoming so fragile that ocean storms are easily smashing them. Corals grow by absorbing carbonate from the water and this carbonate is the corals building blocks. The carbonate promotes tiny algae that live within the coral's tissue and if the temperature of the ocean rises by only 1 or 2 degrees, this algae is expelled from the coral and the coral will slowly die. Where the coral cannot grow enough in order to replace natural erosion, then coral eventually becomes brittle and loses its structure. The erosion of coral is natural, however the balance has been tipped since the 1998 El Nino mass bleaching due to soaring ocean temperatures and since then the coral has been dying faster than they have been able to replenish themselves. Ten years after this episode the dying coral seemed to have stabilised and began repairing itself, however the 2014 worldwide mass bleaching of coral has once again devastated the Maldivian coral grounds, turning them into a ghostly shadow of their former coloured grandeur. This latest bleaching episode is still doing damage to the coral of the Maldives, typically most bleaching episodes usually only last a year.
The Islands of the Maldives are hundreds of kilometres south of India and their remoteness has meant that pollution from the rest of the world is too far to reach them, yet the population has to sustain itself and local food production is limited to fishing. Fresh food and even drinking water have to be imported from India and Sri Lanka, pollution from food packaging and general waste are another major issue for the Islands as the Inhabitants and over one million annual visitors bring to this ocean paradise all that they will consume.